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Calling Cards: Ten Younger Irish Poets, Peter Fallon, Aifric Mac Aodha (eds.)

Pádraic Lamb
p. 130-133
Référence(s) :

Calling Cards: Ten Younger Irish Poets, Peter Fallon, Aifric Mac Aodha (eds.), Loughcrew, The Gallery Press – Poetry Ireland / Éigse Éireann, 2018, 112 p.

Texte intégral

1Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill once described the act of writing poetry in Irish as an act akin to placing a baby in a basket and setting it downstream, in the hope that it would find some “iníon Fharoinn”, “Pharaoh’s daughter” (trans. Paul Muldoon). Dual-language anthologies, and there is now a number of them, may tell us little about the state or size of the Irish-reading public but it does perhaps show that the English-reading public for poetry in Ireland, as well as English-language Irish poets, at least regard an Ghaeilge with benevolence and some interest.

2This anthology, edited by Aifric Mac Aodha and Peter Fallon, in a similar vein to Dermot Bolger’s 1986 Bright Wave / An Tonn Gheal, aims to give a snapshot of today’s poetic activity in Irish, from Kerry to Belfast. The result, happily, is diverse in perspective and realisation as the poets showcased are from rural and urban backgrounds, and speaking from youth or experience. Many aim to capture, then elevate or preserve, the everyday. Caitlín Nic Íomhair, like Sally Rooney in the contemporary novel, trains her gaze on the world of the university (p. 28):

Féach mo rua mhórtasach, teann as a torthúlacht
ag meallacadh go meallacach ar catwalk an arts block
is an dúdalaí údaí thall
céadbholadh a collaíochta á cheilt go maolchluasach
ón bhuachaill sin grunge agus a stánadh lom drúiseach.

Look at that redhead, proud in her bloom,
strutting her stuff down the arts block catwalk,
and the shrinking, studious primrose over there,
hiding the buds of her shy sensuality
from the grungy lad with his too-frank stare. (trans. Colette Bryce, p. 29)

3Others, like Doireann Ní Ghríofa (p. 70) and Stiofán Ó hIfearnáin (p. 36), explore passions or heightened experiences through lyric characters. Ní Ghríofa makes Deirdre of the Sorrows, the famous tragic heroine of the Ulster cycle (and latterly of J. M. Synge’s play) speak. The part of the story revisited, the condemnation of an unborn child and her mother, makes the ancient myth newly poignant in today’s Ireland of the Scandals:

Lean raic rabhadh Chathbhaidh
nach mbeadh i ndán dom
ach an t-olc,
nach dtiocfadh díomsa ach an slad.

Havoc followed Cathbhadh’s verdict,
my future nothing
but trouble,
nothing but ruin to come through me. (trans. Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, p. 71)

4Indeed, juxtaposed lyric perspectives are one of the pleasures of such a cross-section of differing talents and minds. Not often will the famous Irish tragic figure, Deirdre of the Sorrows, have met Melusine, nor, on a lighter note, a woman of any hair colour strutting her stuff down the arts block catwalk.

5The diversity already mentioned is also to be seen and heard in the dialects printed here. Lexical variety is something that written Hiberno-English can render, but some of the subtleties are beyond it, as everything down to the verb endings can pull the reader to a particular Irish-speaking region, proclaim a sense of place and also independence from the much-maligned state-sanctioned central standard, an Caighdeán Oifigiúil. Indeed, perhaps, as the poet-critic Eoghan Ó Tuairisc once predicted, the existence of a written standard has strengthened writing in the dialectal forms, as they vie and vibrate with and against an authoritative form.

6The other authoritative form for the Irish-language poet is of course English. On the whole, there is a sense that these poets, some native speakers, some who learned Irish, write seemingly unburdened with the psychodrama around the choice of language that caused such existential crises and opened such creative veins for poets of previous generations, like the Irish-language poet Seán Ó Ríordáin (1916-1977) or the bilingual Eoghan Ó Tuairisc (1919-1982) or Michael Hartnett (1941-1999). Caitlín Nic Íomhair dots the poem cited above with English words and closes with the neologistic tmesis, “clástrafuckinfóibeach” (p. 28); it does not seem to pose her a problem. This is no doubt positive for the poets’ health and for the breadth of lyric subjects in contemporary Irish-language verse, but some readers may feel that certain poems here sometimes struggle to attain the compelling urgency, the force of lyric as life-or-death, that some more complex approaches to language and the language question can bring.

7As often with this type of venture, a stellar cast of English-language poets have stepped up to ford the river of translation in various remarkable ways. Especially worthy of note, I think, is Medbh McGuckian’s translation of Marcus Mac Conghail’s “Beirt Bhan Óga” (p. 68, literally, “Two Young Women”). It is a highly “visible translation”, to adapt Lawrence Venuti’s term (The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation, London, Routledge, 1995), a visibly hostile translation of a type I do not recall ever seeing before in a co-operative venture such as this one. McGuckian draws her title, “Silk Kimonos”, from a line of Yeats’s “In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markievicz”, in which the poet reflects harshly on the current state of the two women named (one seems “withered old and skeleton-gaunt”) and harks back to the days of their youth, when the two were beautiful (“Two girls in silk kimonos, both / Beautiful, one a gazelle”). Mac Conghail’s speaker is witness to a love-scene between two women on a “rothar a ngrá” (p. 68), “sex-mo-pede” (p. 69, literally, “bike of their love”):

Bailíonn bean an trasnáin léi
ar rothar a ngrá
is suímse trasna
óna cailín ar an traein
le go mbeinn cóngarach do m’éad.

The front seat driver
nips off on their sex-mo-pede
while I insert my frame parallel
to the gazelle boarding the train,
keeping my penis envy under wraps. (trans. Medbh McGuckian, p. 69)

8The last line of the Irish could be translated more literally as “so that I would be close to my jealousy”. Mac Conghail’s is a poem of the male gaze but does not seem leering to me; it is also a solitary individual looking on at a loving couple. The translator has drawn out what she must feel is the unsaid of the original and created a fine but very different poem in English. Should we read it as a translation from Irish to English and, at the same time, a translation from a male perspective to a female one? I cannot help but feeling that Mac Conghail is paying for the sins of the poetic father, Yeats, and his rejection of the mature, accomplished and decided Gore-Booth sisters.

9Poetry anthologies, as well as poetic translations, are designed to spark curiosity, debate and a good row if at all possible. Calling Cards is an attractive, affordable volume that considerably widens the audience for these young Irish-language poets. There is much that is captivating and will arouse curiosity here, and the publishers should be saluted for the enterprise. It is to be hoped that readers, like so many Pharaoh’s daughters, follow the cue, pick up the calling cards of these ten poets and go on to pay them a visit, in poetry readings and happenings around the country and, above all, in their solo published collections.

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Pádraic Lamb, « Calling Cards: Ten Younger Irish Poets, Peter Fallon, Aifric Mac Aodha (eds.) »Études irlandaises, 45-1 | 2020, 130-133.

Référence électronique

Pádraic Lamb, « Calling Cards: Ten Younger Irish Poets, Peter Fallon, Aifric Mac Aodha (eds.) »Études irlandaises [En ligne], 45-1 | 2020, mis en ligne le 24 septembre 2020, consulté le 10 juin 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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